Accessibility and New Construction

Accessibility and New Construction

The Fair Housing Act’s new construction accessibility requirements apply to “covered multifamily dwellings” designed and constructed “for first occupancy” after March 13, 1991. This includes housing that is for rent or for sale and applies whether the housing is privately or publicly funded.

The following multifamily dwellings must comply:

  • All buildings containing four or more dwelling units if the buildings have one or more four or more elevators
  • All ground floor units in buildings containing units, without an elevator.

The requirements apply to all buildings containing four or more single-story units. Condominiums and apartment buildings are covered by the design and construction requirements, as well as, timeshares, dormitories, transitional housing, student housing, assisted living housing, homeless shelters that are used as a residence, etc. To comply, seven basic design and construction requirements must be met:

Requirement 1: All covered multifamily dwellings must have at least one accessible building entrance on an accessible route unless it is impractical to do so because of the terrain or unusual characteristics of the site.

Requirement 2: Covered housing must have accessible and usable public and common-use areas. They include, for example, building-wide fire alarms, parking lots, storage areas, indoor and outdoor recreational areas, lobbies, mailrooms and mailboxes, and laundry areas.

Requirement 3: All doors that allow passage into and within all premises must be wide enough to allow passage by people using wheelchairs.

Requirement 4: There must be an accessible route into and through each covered unit.

Requirement 5: Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls must be in accessible locations.

Requirement 6: Reinforcements in bathroom walls must be installed, so that grab bars can be added when needed. The law does not require installation of grab bars in bathrooms.

Requirement 7: Kitchens and bathrooms must be usable—that is, designed and constructed so an individual in a wheelchair can maneuver in the space provided.

The Fair Housing Act should not be confused with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA covers public accommodations, while the Fair Housing Act covers housing. Many builders and developers believe that if they are ADA compliant then they have fulfilled their legal responsibilities. This is not necessarily true. Generally, the ADA does not apply to residential units. However, there may be ADA requirements for the accessibility of common use areas in residential developments if the facilities are open to persons other than owners, residents, and their guests (e.g.—sales/ rental office, pool, clubhouse and reception room). When determining what laws apply to a building, community or complex, it is important to remember that many codes, federal, state, and local, may apply to your project.

Fair Housing Accessibility FIRST is an initiative sponsored by HUD to promote compliance with the Fair Housing Act design and construction requirements. The initiative offers a toll-free information line and website with technical guidance and training for communities and developers. For more information, contact: (888) 341-7781 or

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